Foreign Relations & International Law

Chatter: “The Day After” and Dad with A. B. Stoddard

Shane Harris, A. B. Stoddard
Thursday, January 11, 2024, 9:00 AM
The television movie, “The Day After," graphically depicted the effects of a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

Brandon Stoddard was one of the most accomplished executives in broadcast television history. In his career at ABC, he helped bring to the small screen such legendary mini-series as “Roots” and “The Winds of War,” as well as the acclaimed television series “Moonlighting” and “Roseanne.” But arguably his most consequential and controversial decision was to air the made-for-TV movie “The Day After,” which graphically depicted the effects of a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. 

Stoddard faced opposition from his colleagues, pundits, and even the Reagan White House, which pressured ABC to pull the film. But having conceived of the project as an impetus for people around the world to grapple with the potential of a devastating war, Stoddard forged ahead and broadcast the film in November 1983. 

It was an epochal event in U.S. history. One hundred million people tuned in to watch, and the movie became the most-watched in television history. It was a national moment of the kind Americans rarely share today. 

Journalist A. B. Stoddard, Brandon’s daughter, spoke with Shane Harris about her dad’s determination to air the film and what he hoped to achieve. Stoddard is well known for her political commentary and work at The Bulwark. But today, she shares personal memories of her father, his illustrious career, and the legacy of his work. In November of last year, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of “The Day After,” she wrote a column, “The Day My Father Scared America.” 

Among the works mentioned in this episode:

Shane Harris has written about intelligence, security and foreign policy for more than two decades. He is a staff writer with The Washington Post, covering U.S. intelligence agencies and national security. He was part of the team that won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, for stories about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and efforts to overturn the presidential election. In 2019, he was part of the team that was a finalist for the Public Service award for coverage of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Shane has previously been a staff writer for the Wall Street Journal, the Daily Beast, and National Journal. He is the author of two books, "The Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance State" (Penguin Press, 2010) and "@War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex" (Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014). He frequently appears on national and international television and radio. He is also a co-host of the weekly podcast "Chatter." Shane graduated from Wake Forest University in 1998. He lives in Washington.
A. B. Stoddard is a writer at large at The Bulwark and an associate editor and columnist at RealClearPolitics.

Subscribe to Lawfare